Why Drowsy Driving Can Be as Dangerous as Drunk Driving

drowsy driver rubbing eyes to stay awake

Everyone knows that getting behind the wheel while drunk is reckless and illegal. However, not everyone understands the risks of getting behind the wheel while drowsy. Startling statistics show that, when a person is tired enough, they may become as impaired as they would after several drinks. Learn more about how drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving.

When Is a Person Considered Drowsy?

Human beings cannot go very long without proper rest. After only three or four nights without sleep, hallucinations may occur. However, significant negative effects of sleep deprivation can occur even after 24 hours without sleep. These effects include:

  • Impaired decision making
  • Altered perception
  • Decreased hand-eye coordination
  • Increased muscle tension
  • Increased risk of accidents or near misses

Many of these symptoms are similar to when a person is under the influence of alcohol. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that going too long without sleep is actually equivalent to being drunk:

  • Being awake for at least 18 hours is the same as someone having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05%, which is above the legal limit for commercial drivers at 0.04%.
  • Being awake for at least 24 hours is equal to having a BAC of 0.10%. This is higher than the legal limit of 0.08% for all drivers.

In addition to sleep deprivation mirroring the effects of alcohol consumption, it can also significantly enhance the effects of even low amounts of alcohol.

How to Prevent Drowsy Driving

Preventing drunk driving is simple: don’t drink before getting behind the wheel. Preventing drowsy driving, on the other hand, requires more effort.

Adults need approximately seven hours of sleep every night, while adolescents need eight. Sticking to good sleep habits, such as going to bed at the same time every night, powering down blue light-emitting devices at least half an hour before bedtime, avoiding alcohol and food before bed, and more can all help improve sleep quality.

Still, even practicing good sleep habits may not be enough for people who work night shifts or irregular hours, like truckers and other commercial drivers. This is why it’s vital for these drivers, and their employers, to enforce federal hours-of-service regulations.

These regulations, set forth by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), limit the number of hours a commercial driver may drive without a break. Currently, the regulations are as follows:

  • 30-minute break requirement: Requires break of at least 30 consecutive minutes after 8 cumulative hours of driving time and allows an on-duty/not driving period to qualify as the required break.
  • Sleeper berth provision: Modifies the sleeper berth exception to allow a driver to meet the 10-hour minimum off-duty requirement by spending at least 7 hours of that period in the berth combined with a minimum off-duty period of at least 2 hours spent inside or outside the berth, provided the two periods total at least 10 hours.

Unfortunately, however, truckers and other commercial drivers may violate these federal mandates for positive or negative incentives, like financial rewards or threats of termination for meeting (or failing to meet) unreasonable delivery deadlines. This can result in a significant number of drowsy, incapacitated drivers on the road.

How to Recognize Drowsy Driving in Yourself and Others

It’s important for every driver to be able to identify the warning signs of drowsy driving in themselves and others in order to protect themselves on the road.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the following are warning signs of drowsy driving:

  • Frequent yawning
  • Difficulty keeping eyes open
  • Difficulty keeping head up
  • Missing road signs or turns

If you observe any of these behaviors in yourself, it is important to get off the road as soon as possible and get somewhere you can rest. It is better to take a 30-minute break from driving rather than push through and end up in a devastating car crash.

On the other hand, it is also important for drivers to be able to identify other motorists who may be drowsy so they can steer clear of them. If you notice a vehicle displaying any of these warning signs, get as far away from the vehicle as possible:

  • Erratic speeds, such as driving too slow or failing to maintain a constant speed
  • Drifting in between lanes

However, even if you avoid such vehicles, you may not be able to prevent every drowsy driving crash. If you or someone you love has been injured in a car accident caused by a drowsy driver, our Sacramento personal injury attorneys are here to help. At Kershaw Talley Barlow, we have helped countless injury victims recover the compensation they need for medical bills, lost wages, and more after a devastating accident.

We encourage you to contact us today to learn how we may help you through this. Call Kershaw Talley Barlow at (916) 520-6639 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.

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